Internet Search Queries
My students have done three independent research projects this year. The first was on fish from the Great Lakes, the second on European explorers, and the third on one of the thirteen original American colonies. We use the Internet quite regularly in my classroom, searching for information, going to specific sites, and using online resources such as World Book Online Kids. We also visit Wonderopolis nearly every day to read nonfiction essays on fun topics like what causes thunder or lightning, why do you blink, or why a has piano eighty-eight keys.
I admit, I have never made a specific point in teaching students how to actually perform a search using a search engine. The reason for this is simple: any time we have used a computer or a tablet to do so, the students have all started searching without any specific prompting from me. But today I decided to use our computer lab to teach how to perform better search queries. I asked the students to do a search for a topic related to our science unit, such as weather, clouds, or the water cycle. I did the same on my computer, which was connected to the LCD projector in the lab.
I did a search for water cycle and discovered the first link was to a page on the US Geological Survey website. While it was an educational site, the information was far more complex than we tackle in fourth grade. Other links that showed up include course pages for college classes and links to teacher websites with lesson plans. (Using Google as a search engine in a school, you are bound to find many school-related links.)
I asked the class to think of a way to find information on our topic that would be good for fourth graders to use. Many kept using the same search query or something similar. So I made a suggestion: add just two words to the end of the query. If you are looking for information on a topic that is relevant to fourth graders, add “fourth grade” to the query. They did this, and found sites like the following:
Others did searches on clouds and weather and used the new search term to find equally useful sites. For the next twenty minutes, all of my students were intently busy learning about weather and the water cycle. Some went back to the classroom to get paper and a pencil to take notes. Others wrote down websites so they could visit them again. Others just enjoyed learning and watching videos that helped them better understand the topics. All greatly benefited from using an appropriate search query.
This activity reminded me of an old adage: anything worth doing is worth doing well. When it comes to using the Internet and searching for information, I know that my students know how to do it. My goal is to make sure that they know how to do it well.